Cathy Austin November’20

Heartbreak and Hope: Stories From War Time

By Cathy Austin

Every fall I set aside a handful of novels set during the World Wars to read before Remembrance Day on November 11th. It’s another way to remember all who served and for me connect with my late parents, my mum who came here as a war bride and my dad who served in 4 campaigns in WWII. and whom she met in Scotland while he was on leave.

Very much enjoyed is Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes by Linda Granfield. Hundreds of ‘brides’ submitted their stories about how they met their Canadian serviceman, their travel by a number of ships carrying hundreds of women and children to Halifax and Pier 21, meeting their new in-laws and families, getting to know their new husband and his country. I was delighted to find a note about the Lady Nelson, the ship my mum came over on! Very poignant book, moving and during this year of covid, a reminder that many have survived before us with so little or nothing at all in a time of war, great perspective.

Another excellent Canadian writer and story: The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham. This blew me away. I knew about the Guests of War, those children of British families sent here to stay safe during WWII and housed with host families around Ontario. (Kit Pearson penned a wonderful trilogy a few years ago) But I never knew about ‘filthy’ orphans ‘cluttering’ up the streets of London, rounded up and sent over here, bought and paid for mainly by farmers for extra help on their lands. This book is set in 1936 on, but this went on long before that. Heartbreaking, bleak, and seemingly without hope the main characters rally, take back their lives, escaping from ruthless ‘masters’ and embark on better lives; not all survive but three do and this story revolves around them, especially Winny in present day as she tells about her true past to her granddaughter and great grandson. Have a tissue box handy. Strong characters with courage beyond belief. And there is happiness between the pages, and hope.

Found Christmas at Woolworth’s last year at my local used bookshop. Elaine Everest writes this series about a bunch of shop girls who chum during WWII on the English coast; they bond, start families, and survive the war years not without mishap but as a ‘family’ always looking out for each other, no matter what. Another poignant read.

The iconic late Timothy Findlay always wrote straight up. I’ve read his The Wars twice, it’s one of my favourite novels of the great war, WWI, in that it demands you read it in one sitting, it’s that gripping, that intense, that absorbing. It will make you weep. Writing above par, but that’s Findlay, a master.

A book I’ll get into this winter is A House in the Mountains by Caroline Moorehead. This book is about the women who liberated Italy from Fascism, a true story about these women of the partisan resistance who fought to save their country from a terrible fate.

My current read is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris about the man who inks the numbers on everyone entering the camps and who meets a young woman and is determined to marry her, love at first sight for both but surviving the camp and it’s horrors must be done. Well written and based on a true story.

November 11th, one of the many dates in our collective histories we must continue to honour and keep alive.